The pretty good: El Museo del Barrio’s cafe, where we fueled up before the shows there and next door at the Museum of the City of New York. I was looking forward to the great tamales I remembered from the press party, but they had only chicken and shrimp, neither of which I’ll eat, so I settled for what I knew would be a leaden empanada (chorizo) but scored with a beef taco, one so good it almost didn’t need the meat for all the guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and cheese heaped on top (for $3). My chickpea-hating consort got one look at the garbanzo and chorizo soup and had to have that, along with a pork taco, and both were outstanding. The high-fructose corn syrup ginger beer we shared was a heartburn-inducing mistake, though. The setting is a bit cafeteria-esque, but it was bright on a gray and pissing-rainy day. Points off for the cook who took a mislabeled burrito another patron had opened and stuck it back in the warmer for resale. And wore her latex gloves to help bus tables. Still, WIGB? Absolutely. And the gift shop carries some enticing cookbooks, in both English and Spanish. 104th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Archive for December, 2009
The good, yet again: Fairway upstairs, yet again, where we trotted after the underwhelming “Up in the Air” and where we were rewarded yet again with good food, cheap wine and WTH service. We shivered in just minutes before the kitchen closed, which made it all the more amazing that my (yes) Caesar was super-garlicky perfection and Bob’s chicken thighs with roasted butternut squash were juicy-exceptional. And consider the wine: NZ sauvignon blanc was a buck less than lame popcorn at the theater. 2127 Broadway near 74th Street, 212 595 1888.
The not bad: Qi after the Wednesday Greenmarket, where I stopped for a quick hoisin duck banh mi preceded by chive dumplings. The waiter remembered me, which was nice, although not enough to compensate for my sandwich, which was light on filling and heavy on bread. The dumplings were no better than last time either. WIGB? Sure — location, location, location. Plus the tab with tax and tip was only a little over $10, and now they have wine. 31 West 14th Street, 212 929 9917.
The adequate: Santa Clara Taqueria Mexicana in Inwood, where we settled after an expedition to buy Russian chocolate in graphically great packaging at Moscow on the Hudson on 181st Street. I discovered aerated chocolate last year and figured it would be a good gift for my in-law equivalent, and this shop had many more options than the one where I shopped for my consort. Thirty-four dollars and a heavy bag later, we set out to find the vintage Grunebaum’s bakery I had read about on a neighborhood blog, only to find its longtime space up for rent, and were ready for anything for lunch. The loud place is minuscule, with half the space taken up with beer promos (wonder what the vendors think about waitresses whose hats boast one brand and aprons another). And the prices are insane — we could have been eating in mellow luxury closer to home at El Paso Taqueria. But Bob was thrilled with his beef tongue and chorizo tacos, $2 apiece with superb green salsa. I was put off by $9.95 enchiladas on a street where gloves are $2, so I settled for a $5.50 torta, soft bread skimpily filled with decent chorizo, avocado, jalapeños and lettuce. With a Jarritos grapefruit soda, the damage was all of $11.50. WIGB? Nah. We passed no end of tantalizing alternatives on our walk to the subway at 145th and Broadway.
The almost: O’Neals near Lincoln Center, where we headed with another couple after the bad-acoustics Steve Earle concert down the block and where the hosts were smart enough to offer us a table just for drinks but the waiter was dumb enough to hustle us out. I had expected we would have to squeeze into the bar and yell, but once we were seated with linen and flatware and menus, salad and crab cakes and guacamole were being ordered to go with the $11-a-glass sauvignon blanc. I only tasted the guacamole, which was better than it had any right to be despite supermarket-level chips, but our friends seemed happy with their real food. And the roll I tasted outperformed, too. It was late, but it was Friday, so I was rather surprised no one seemed interested in selling us another glass or so. WIGB? Undoubtedly. Location trumps many flaws. 49 West 64th Street, 212 787 4663.
The bittersweet: reBar in Dumbo, where we joined MediaStorm & famille for a last holiday party and where we got to celebrate Bob going from panda to condor again — he’s leaving regular feeding times in the zoo to go back to flying freely — while acknowledging it would be the last time we partied with this crew in this way. The tables were covered in food by the time I got there (late), but I can vouch for the guacamole, the pico de gallo and the penne with artichokes. And the wine service was surprisingly attentive considering how busy it was on a Monday night. WIGB? If he still had to commute, maybe. 147 Front Street, Brooklyn, 718 677 9110.
The womb-like: Beco in Greenpoint, where nine of us headed just for drinks after a friend’s gallery talk nearby and where the staff could not have been more accommodating, pulling together tables and handing us all menus drink-side up rather than taking umbrage at the prospect of no food tab. I ordered a $6 sauvignon blanc before realizing caipirinhas were the way to go. Four of us walked out to hearty thanks and shivered to the L close by wondering why we can’t have a place like that in our neighborhood. Of course, the answer is obvious: Ridiculous rents and stroller gridlock. WIGB? Absolutely. It was so pleasant, and the well-priced Brazilian menu looked promising. 45 Richardson Street near Lorimer, Brooklyn, 718 599 1645.
The when-did-it-turn-so-touristy?: Keens Steakhouse too close to Macy’s, where we rushed back from Brooklyn on a Sunday night to meet steak-craving friends literally just off the plane from India, Madagascar and Mauritius and where I’m surprised their heads didn’t explode from culture shock. We were shunted to a table upstairs, a room that felt like an over-lit theme park, with unsmoked pipes on the ceiling and waiters, hostesses and other diners all snapping photos of grinning Middle Americans, but that was not the worst of it. I can’t recall service that unservicey in a restaurant where entrees are in the $40s — our guy spent most of the evening lounging against the bar after taking our wine and food orders. The Bugses split a $90 porterhouse, but my consort and I were overwhelmed by the $43.50 sirloin; we all shared decent creamed spinach and a big order of fries. (And there was a tray of gargantuan carrot sticks and celery stalks with olives and blue cheese dip in the middle of the table, another heartland touch, as were the mints at the door and $1 coat check fee posted on a brass plate at the checkroom.) We took most of our steak home, and it tasted just as odd sliced and seared next day. Maybe we’re just used to better beef everywhere these days, but this was downright peculiar. Do they store it too close to the mutton? WIGB? Not if you paid me. I don’t remember it being that bad, but then the last time I ate in the dining room I think was after 9/11 when I did a piece for the NYTimes on vintage restaurants thriving in a shattered city. Too bad you can’t eat the 1885 scenery.
The quite good: Kefi for lunch on a miserable rainy, heading-toward-snowy Saturday, where we wound up after we were too lazy to schlep to Union Square and were looking for cheap non-Asian somewhere relatively near the Greenmarket at Lincoln Center. I was surprised prices are the same as at dinner, but the menu also includes deals like Bob’s: a bowl of soup (superb black lentil made with lamb stock and garnished with dill and cheese) and half a huge sandwich (outstanding pork souvlaki that was actually sausage), for $9.95. Indecision led me to the spreads, including tzatziki, taramosalata and eggplant, sublime as always with warm pita. The waiters and hostess were quite personable and efficient in a room about a third filled, even when every group rejected the first table offered. Heading back out into that grim weather was not easy. WIGB? Of course. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.